United States v. Cunningham, No. 10-4021 (3d Cir. 2012)Annotate this Case
While conducting an undercover online investigation of peer-to-peer file sharing networks, officer Erdely was able to connect to a computer sharing child pornography files. Erdely obtained a court order to identify the IP address that had shared the files. The address was registered to Cunningham’s deceased mother. During a search, the only working computer was found in Cunningham’s bedroom. Cunningham admitted to searching for and downloading child pornography. At trial, the district court allowed the government, over Cunningham’s objection, to show the jury videos containing seven different video clips totaling approximately two minutes as a sample of the child pornography that gave rise to the charges. Cunningham was sentenced to 210 months’ imprisonment and 20 years’ supervised release following his conviction for receipt and distribution of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2). The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for a new trial. The district court abused its discretion, not only by failing to review the videos prior to admitting them but also by allowing all of those videos to be shown to the jury, because the highly inflammatory nature of two of them clearly and substantially outweighed their probative value pertaining to the crimes charged. The errors were not harmless.